France “denies having released British trawler”

A British scallop dredging vessel seized by France is still detained in the port of Le Havre after a minister said the vessel had been released by French authorities.

Post-Brexit quarrels over fish culminated last Wednesday with the French seizure of the British dredger, Cornelis Gert Jan, in French waters.

And Andrew Brown, director of Macduff Shellfish, which owns the Scottish-registered scallop trawler, said he was still at the mercy of French prosecutors.

He said: “As far as we know, the vessel will remain detained in the port of Le Havre at least until the hearing tomorrow.”

The skipper of Cornelis Gert Jan was last week questioned by the police in Le Havre for several hours and accused of fishing French waters without a license.

After being seized by French authorities for six days, Environment Minister George Eustice said Cornelis Gert Jan was caught after an “administrative error”.

He told Sky News: “I understand that the vessel has now been released and I think some further discussions will be needed, obviously there was an administrative error at some point. We have not quite reached the bottom of That, but the vessel I understand has been released. “

Sir. Eustice said the captain, implied to be an Irish citizen who had a court hearing scheduled for August next year, is yet to return in the future amid “further discussions”.

He subsequently described the problem at BBC Breakfast as an “administrative confusion” due to a change in the engine.

But it seems he may have spoken too soon, and boat tracking systems show the vessel is still in France.

Meanwhile, Britain has welcomed the fact that France has “withdrawn” from threats to impose criminal proceedings in a dispute over post-Brexit fishing licenses, while negotiations to resolve the dispute continue.

Sir. Eustice acknowledged a deescalation from French President Emmanuel Macron as he endured the action against British boats, which he had warned could have been carried out on Tuesday.

But the minister said a meeting between Brexit minister Lord Frost and his French counterpart on Thursday would be “very important” as further talks with the EU are also planned.

Macron had warned that Paris could block British boats from landing their catches in French ports and tighten customs control from midnight in protest of what they claim is a refusal by the British authorities to grant licenses to French boats.

But France suspended the threats for eleven hours while negotiations continue.

Eustice told Sky News: “We are delighted that France has stepped back from the threats it made last Wednesday.

“We have always said that we want to de-escalate this and we have always said that we have an always open door to discuss further evidence that France or the EU may have on additional vessels they would like to have licensed.

“France has clearly made a decision not to implement some of the decisions they threatened on Wednesday, we very much welcome that, but I think there will be a very important meeting on Thursday between Lord Frost and his counterpart, not just about fishing, but also a wider range of problems. “

The European Union said talks convened with officials from France, Britain, Jersey and Guernsey would continue on Tuesday.

“Further meetings are scheduled for later this week,” a spokeswoman for the European Commission added.

On Monday night, just hours before the deadline set by Paris, the French president was reported to have told reporters at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow: “Since this afternoon, discussions have resumed on the basis of a proposal I made to Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson.

“Negotiations must continue.”

“My understanding is that the British would return to us tomorrow with other suggestions.

“All of that will be worked on.

“We will see where we are tomorrow at the end of the day, to see if things have really changed,” he is said to have said.

“My wish is that we can find a way out on all these issues.”

Macron and Johnson met briefly when the French president arrived in Glasgow.

And officials from the two nations were involved in negotiations convened by the European Commission in Brussels.

Earlier, Downing Street said it had “robust” contingency plans in place if Mr Macron’s government carried out threats to disrupt trade from midnight.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Britain would take legal action under the Brexit trade agreement between Britain and the EU and that a timely retaliation against French action had not been ruled out.

The UK has granted licenses to 98% of EU vessels that have requested permission to operate in British waters.

But the dispute is about access for small boats under 12 meters who want to fish in Britain’s six to 12 nautical mile zone.

The Paris government was angry that the UK initially only granted 12 licenses out of 47 bids for smaller vessels, a number that has now risen to 18.

Only boats that can demonstrate that they have fished in British waters for one day in each of the years between 2012 and 2016 qualify for a license.

The Elysee Palace had said that without motion from the British government, the retaliatory measures would take effect at midnight, the French news agency AFP reported.

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